Sunday, July 01, 2007
Orlando Sentinel "Former Tiger Darius Washington Still Hoping for NBA Shot"
Washington still hoping for shot at the NBA
After a year in Europe, the former Edgewater standout hasn't lost sight of his dream.
Shannon J. Owens | Sentinel Staff Writer
June 27, 2007
A year later, and there still are no regrets.
The flashy Edgewater High point guard who chose college instead of the NBA, then led Memphis to an Elite Eight appearance, then cut college short two years by entering the 2006 NBA draft only to go undrafted -- he doesn't apologize for a single moment.
That's the kind of brashness that make some consider Darius Washington Jr. incredibly gutsy. How the next two weeks play out for Washington, who's hoping to break into the NBA after playing a year in Europe, is anyone's guess. But regrets?
"No," he said. "Once you make a decision, you stick it through. I'm not going to let one night mess up my dream I've had for 10 or 11 years."
Last year, each of the 30 NBA teams passed on Washington after he signed with an agent at the end of his sophomore season at Memphis. It was a gamble to leave early. Many scouts thought he was better as a shooting guard than at the point. But most NBA shooting guards are at least 6 feet 4. Washington, who is 6-2, still made the call to leave.
"If he stayed, he would have thought I was holding him back," Memphis Coach John Calipari said. "He's got time to get his stuff in order, and I believe he will.
"You can't tell me he made a mistake; it's too early."
Last summer, Washington signed a one-year contract with Greece PAOK, where he averaged 10.6 points in seven games before switching to Basketball Nymburk, a smaller league in the Czech Republic.
Washington left the Greek team because he grew frustrated with his playing time, which he said dropped after a car accident that left him with minor hip and wrist injuries.
"They thought I was in pain, but I was fine," Washington said.
With just two days to learn the offense, he guided his new team to its fourth consecutive Czech League title -- beating out seven other teams.
"They pass the ball a lot, sometimes 15 times in one play," Washington said. "There's a lot of team unity on the court."
But will that be enough to impress NBA types?
Point guard is the toughest position to learn and even tougher to fill, said former NBA forward Ronald "Popeye" Jones. Jones heads the player development staff for the Dallas Mavericks, a team for which Washington played summer-league ball last year in Las Vegas.
"We were really impressed with his athleticism, his ability to score, his one-on-one skills," Jones said. "But somewhere along the way, when he got with the vets, I don't think he really knew what to expect with guys that had just been in the NBA Finals.
"From a point-guard standpoint, he struggled a little bit with his decision-making. He has to find his niche with a team that wants a shooting point guard."
NBA draft analyst Chris Monter said he expected Washington to play in a summer league, "but I've not heard of any teams yet. A lot will depend on which teams will draft a point guard."
Washington's father, Darius Sr., said four teams have shown interest but declined to name the teams. "This is just a part of his story," said Darius Sr., an assistant recreation chief at the Winter Park Community Center. "Everybody has to go through something."
Washington helped Memphis reach the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight in 2006, but critics long have questioned whether he could lead a team. Is a year overseas enough?
"I think anything is possible," Jones said. "I'm a guy that was drafted 41st in the NBA, played overseas, improved my game and played 11 years [in the league]."
That's the ending Washington wants, but he hasn't been wading in self-pity in the meantime. He fired his former agent, Roger Montgomery, in December and now is represented by a European-based agency, Wasserman Media Group.
While playing in the Czech Republic, he and his teammates often would take a 30-minute drive to Prague on their free days to party and shop. On one trip, he negotiated with a shopkeeper over a white gold hoop earring, which he often wears in his left earlobe. He bought it for $1,000.
"I was too cheap to buy the other one," joked Washington.
But his finances were no laughing matter last December. His son's mother, Bianca Brunetti, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that Washington wasn't providing financially for their 1-year-old son, Darius III. Brunetti petitioned the Shelby County Juvenile Court for child support and received public assistance, $95 a month, the paper reported.
Washington said the situation has been taken care of, but didn't go into details. Brunetti didn't return calls from the Sentinel.
"It really wasn't over anything," Washington said. "Just a spur-of-the-moment-type thing. We both realized it's not about us; it's about our son. I'm doing it all for him."
Perhaps that explains Washington's sense of urgency. Whether an NBA team shares his fervor remains to be seen.
Shannon J. Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.